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An Occasional 
Paper from 
The Institute 
for Democratic 
Socialism 




The 
Black 

Church 
and 

Marxism: 

What Do They 
Have To Say 
To Each Other? 

James H. Ccm^ 



With comments by 
Michael Harrington 




April, 1980 



1 



THE BLACK CHURCH AND MARXISM: 

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO SAY TO EACH OTHER? 

by 

James H. Cone 
Union Theological Seminary, NY 



The black church and marxism have emerged on the North American 
continent from separate historical paths and thus have encountered each 
other only rarely. Marxism is European in origin and was imported into 
the United States in 1851 by Joseph Weydemeyer, a friend of Karl Marx. 
The black church is both African and European in origin. It was created 
during the late 18th and early 19th centuries when black people refused to 
accept slavery and racial oppression as consistent with the gospel of 
Jesus Christ. During the early period of their existence in North America, 
there was virtually no contact between black churches and marxists. Both 
were preoccupied with, theix own iiranediate projects, which were sharply 
contradicted by the current structures of American capitalism. The 
primary historical project of marxists was defined in terms of the 
destruction of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society 
in which the means of productive forces would be owned by the people 
rather than by an elite ruling class. The primary historical project of 
the black church was defined as preaching and living the gospel of Jesus 
in order to receive both the gift of eternal life and the courage to 
fight against injustice in this world, especially as represented in 
slavery and racism. 

The different histories of the black church and marxism as well 
as their different perspectives on the human condition confirmed their 



Note: This essay was written for the Democratic Socialist Organizing Com- 
mittee's seminar on "Religion, Socialism, and the Black Experience," held 
at Asbury United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C., April 9, 1980. An 
earlier version of this paper was presented in a "Black Theology and 
Marxist Thought" seminar at Union Theological Seminary, jointly taught by 
Professor Cornel West and me. I wish to convey my gratitude to the 
students of that class for their perceptive comments. I also benefited 
immensely from the critical observations of my colleague. Cornel West, 
whose presentation of the socialist challenge is provocative and appealing. 

The importance of the socialist issue for the black church was rein- 
forced within my consciousness when I presented this lecture at the Shaker 
Heights Community Church's Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Racial 
Justice, April 25-26, 1980. The black church people of that church and 
other blacks attending the seminar responded enthusiastically to my 
analysis and encouraged me to pursue the socialism issue. 



^93257 



2. 



separateness in the society and thus laid the fovindation for their mis- 
understanding of each other. Because both the black church and marxism 
have been marginal in American society, they have been preoccupied with 
their own survival and have taken little notice of one another. However, 
to the extent that marxists and other socialists have been concerned 
historically with the black community, they have almost always encountered 
the black church, because the church has been, and to a large degree 
still is, the most important institution in our community. Similarly, 
to the extent that black churchpeople have been concerned with creating 
a completely new society, they have looked in the direction of marxism. 
Although the socialist tradition among black churchpeople is small, it 
is still present and we black theologians and historians should redis- 
cover it in order to enhance our vision of liberation. 

The lack of contact between black churchpeople and marxists has 
resulted in distorted views of each other's perspectives. They only know 
each other from a distance and usually only through the white capitalist 
media. While rejecting what their mutual enemy says about themselves, 
they seem to accept teadily what is said about each other. As far as I 
know, this is the first occasion that marxist-socialists and black 
Christians have come together for dialogue looking toward doing some 
things together to make this society more humane. In this initial 
encounter, it would be wise not to gloss over sharp differences in our 
perspectives but also to avoid stressing the minor aspects of our view- 
points. We must be keenly aware of our history in relation to each other 
so we can build on our strengths and avoid our past mistakes. 

MARXISM AND THE BLACK CHURCH: HISTORIC ATTITUDES 

In the history of relations between black churchpeople and 
marxists, we can easily identify three attitudes: indifference, hostility, 
and mutual support. The most frequent of these has been indifference. 
In 1911 Thomas Potter, a black socialist from Patterson, New Jersey, 
wrote: "Let me say in the most emphatic terms that if there is one blot 
on the record of the Socialist Party, it is that of its utter apathy and 
indifference tov/ard the negro. "^ 

Mutual indifference can be seen by the absence of references to 
each other in their respective expressions of radicalism in the United 
States. For a black person finds it strange that in books on the 
history of socialism there are few if any references to black radicalism 
in the United States. The only period in which a few comments are made 
is in connection with the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 
1960's. It is as if black radicalism does not exist for white socialists 
until the appearance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael. 
White socialists seem not to know or care about the radicalism of the 
19th and early 20th century of black churchpeople. A similar invisibility 
obscures early black socialists, like Peter Clark and the Reverend George 
Washington Woodbey. 



Peter Clark, a principal and teacher from Cincinnati, Ohio was the 
first black to declare himself a socialist. "In 1878, he was chosen as a 
member of the National Executive Committee of the newly formed Socialist 
Labor Party, "2 but had to resign a year later because, in his words "the 
welfare of the Negro is my controlling motive -"3 The Socialist Labor Party 
completely ignored the situation of blacks during the late 19th century, 
and the same is true of other socialist groups, including the Socialist 
Party, organized in 1901. 

The Reverend George Washington Woodbey was a member of the Socialist 
Party, attending the national conventions in 1904 and 1908. In 1908 he was 
nominated but rejected by the convention as Eugene Debs' running mate in the 
1908 presidential elections. He wrote several books reconciling socialism 
and Christianity, including What to Do and How to Do It or Socialism vs. ^ 
Capitalism and The Bible and Socialism: A Conversation Between Two Preachers . 

Unfortunately black socialists are invisible in the histories of 
socialism written by white intellectuals. Such works as Michael Harrington, 
Socialisms and Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States^ have 
almost no references to black people's involvement in the socialist movement. 
Although James We in stein. The Decline of Socialism in America^ and 
Ambiguous Legacy^ devoted a few pages to blacks in each book, it is quite 
clear that black people's relation to socialism is not an integral part of 
his analysis. The conspicuous absence of any reference to the importance of 
black presence in the Socialist Party or to black radicalism outside the 
socialist movement can only mean that most white socialists themselves are 
indifferent to the black struggle for liberation as defined by black people. 
For anyone who is seriously interested in why more black people are not 
socialists should read Philip Foner's American Socialism and Black Americans . ^Q 
For the socialists' history in America in relation to black people (to quote 
Engels' in another connection) "proves how useless is a platfo2n:n — for the 
most part theoretically correct—if it is unable to get in contact with the 
actual needs of the people. "^^ It was the strange indifference of the 
Socialist Party in relation to racism that made W.E.B. DuBois ambivalent 
about his commitment to it, even though he clearly believed that socialism 
provided a better social arrangement than capitalism. As early as 1913, 
DuBois said: "The Negro problem is the great test of the American socialist. "12 
In succeeding years white socialists, along with the rest of white society, 
failed that test. Many socialists, like white Christians, seem to be unaware 
that there is a serious credibility problem as they are analyzed from a 
black perspective of reality. Like white Christians who appear to be white 
first and Christian second, white socialists also seem to be white first 
and socialists second. Such an identity will always present difficult 
problems in the context of dialogue with black people. 

The indifference of socialism toward the black church is mirrored 
in the indifference of the black church toward socialism. There were black 
preachers who became advocates of socialism, but either such advocacy 
remained on the periphery of their message or the preachers themselves 
remained on the periphery of the black church. In 1896 Reverdy C. Ransom, 
later a bishop in the AME Church, wrote an article entitled "The Negro and 



Socialism" in which he advocated socialism. He said that when the "Negro 
comes to realize that socialism offers him freedom of opportunity to 
cooperate with all /people/ upon terms of equality in every avenue of 
life, he will not be slow to accept his social emancipation. "13 During 
the 1890 's The Christian Recorder and the AME Church Review carried on a 
dialogue on the strengths and the weaknesses of socialism, with the writers 
of the Recorder rejecting socialism and the writers of the Review supporting 
it. But even the black ministers who supported socialism did not view 
socialism as central to their perspective on the gospel. 

The same is true of black preachers and theologians today. They 
are indifferent toward socialism, because they know little about it and 
because they believe that the reality of racism is too serious to risk 
dilution with socialism. When one reads the histories of black churches 
in the works of Joseph Washington, ^^ Carter G. Woodson, 15 e. Franklin 
Frazier,16 Gayraud S. Wilmorel7 and others, it is revealing that there are 
no references to black socialist preachers. 

The one event that presented the radical black church movement of 
the 1960 's with an opportunity to consider the marxist question was when 
James Forman issued The Black Manifesto in Riverside Church, May 4, 1969. 
While the National Conference of Black Churchmen supported Forman, their 
support ignored the "Introduction" of the Manifesto because it was marxist. 
The black preachers of NCBC strongly endorsed the demands of the Manifesto . 
However they sidestepped the marxist justification of the demands, using 
instead their own nationalist arguments. While James Forman was referred 
to as a modern-day prophet by NCBC and other black churchpeople , no black 
church person, to my knowledge, endorsed his perspective on marxism. In 
fact, during all the discussions I attended on the Manifesto issue, no one 
even raised the issue of marxism. 

It was an intellectual failure on my part that I did not deal with 
marxism and socialism when I wrote Black Theology and Black Power 1^ which 
was published in 1969. Neither did the issue of socialism appear in my 
A Black Theology of Liberation^ Q (1970) and God of the Oppressed^ l (1975) . 
But after encountering serious socialists who were also serious Christians 
in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, ^^ j began to re-evaluate my silence 
on this theme. As a result I raised the socialism issue at the first Black 
Theology Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, August 1977 in a lecture entitled: 
"Black Theology and the Black Church: Where Do We Go From Here? "2 3 since 
that time, I have been convinced that the black church cannot remain silent 
regarding socialism, because such silence will be interpreted by our Third 
World brothers and sisters as support for the capitalistic system which 
exploits the poor all over this earth. 

For example, between 25,000 and 50,000 people die each day from 
starvation, a cause that is directly related to the persistence of national 
and international economic orders that foster distorted development. The 
former secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, well known for his racial slurs, 
said it bluntly: "Food is a weapon. It is now one of the principal tools 
of our negotiating kit. "24 sixty percent of the world's population are 



' 



malnourished, 20% are starving, and one-third have less than $3,00 per week 
on which to live. Never before in human history has there been so much 
food production and also so much suffering from hunger. According to the 
United Nation's Conference on Trade and Development's report in October 1976, 
the developed countries with 20% of the world's population have almost 67% 
of the world's income while the poorest 30% of humanity have only 3% of the 
world's income. It is little wonder that the nations of the world spend 
300 billion annually on military weapons (about 34 million every hour) and 
over one-third of the total being spent in the United States. What is 
reflected in the international economic order in terms of the maldistribution 
of wealth is found also on the national scene in the United States. One 
percent of the people in the USA own 30% of the wealth. ^^ From these 
economic realities, it ought to be clear that black churches cannot simply 
continue to ignore socialism as an alternative social arrangement. We can- 
not continue to speak against racism without any reference to a radical 
change in the economic order. I do not think that racism can be eliminated 
as long as capitalism remains intact. It is now time for us to investigate 
socialism as an alternative to capitalism. One result will be to rediscover 
black socialist preachers, like George W. Woodbey, who were relegated to the 
periphery of the black church tradition, because of their strong advocacy 
of socialism. 

In addition to the dominant attitude of indifference among marxists 
and black churchpeople, there have also been instances of hostility and 
mutual support. An example of the hostile attitude is found among the 
communists during the 1920 's. One communist said of the black preacher: 
"The duty of the preacher is not alone to detract the mind of his congrega- 
tion from their wretched conditions. It is also to serve the white planta- 
tion owners as their best agents in spying upon the activities of the rural 
populace. For so faithfully serving their masters, these lackeys often 
receive excellent wages. "^^ This attitude continued until the early 1930' s 
when the communists began to change from hostility to support. They 
supported Father Divine and later Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Powell said of 
the communists in 1945: "Today there is no group in America, including the 
Christian Church, that practices racial brotherhood one-tenth as much as 
the Communist Party. "^^ 

Because of their separate paths to radicalism and their mutual 
marginality in this society, marxists and black church people continue their 
misunderstanding of each other, unnecessarily perpetuating their historic- 
indifference and hostility to each other. As part of the present effort to 
move beyond massive neglect and occasional sniping, let us consider the 
unfavorable assumptions by which marxists and black churchpeople have held 
one another at arm's length. I shall start with the black viewpoint and 
continue with the marxist one, commenting on each point along the way. 



THE BLACK CHURCH'S VIEW OF MARXISM 

1. According to the black church, marxist philosophy is atheistic 
and therefore must be rejected. How can the black church embrace a philo- 
sopy that denies God's existence, when the church is based on the faith that 
God will make a way out of no way? It appears that this fundamental objection 
would end dialogue before it begins. 



6. 



However, the fact is that many people in Asia, Africa, and Latin 
America call themselves marxists and Christians at the same time. They do 
so by distinguishing between marxism as world view ( Weltanschauung ) and 
marxism as an instrument of social analysis, rejecting the former and 
enthusiastically taking up the latter. Black churchpeople in this country 
may find themselves able to do the same thing. Marxism may be understood 
as a scientific tool for analyzing the economic, political and social 
structures of this society so that we will know how to actualize in the 
world the freedom that we affirm in faith. 

2. Blacks also observe that marxism is European in origin and 
therefore white. Whiteness as such is of course no problem but in the 
black experience whiteness almost always means racism. In the past marxists 
and other socialists have been predominantly racist by excluding blacks 
from their vision of the new socialist society. Some socialists advocated 
that blacks should be exported to Africa, and others claimed that their 
vision of a socialist society did not in any way eliminate racial segrega- 
tion. Others, like Eugene Debs, one of the founders of the Socialist Party 
in the early 20th century and a frequent Presidential candidate, remained 
ambivalent on the issue of racism. When the Socialist Party did take a 
stand against racism during the 1904 and 1908 conventions, the stand was 
weak and nothing was done to implement it. The party was concerned not to 
offend southern white socialists who made it quite clear that there was a 
special place for black people and not even socialism can change that fact."^^ 

I think that blacks can overcome the problem of marxism being white 
and racist the same way we overcame the problem of Christianity being white 
and racist. We can indigenize marxism, that is, reinterpret it for our 
situation. We do not refuse to ride in cars or airplanes, nor do we reject 
any other useful instrument just because they were invented by whites. 
Why then should we reject marxism if it proves to be of use in our struggle 
for freedom? 

3. Many white marxists, especially the communists during the 1920 *s, 
referred to black preachers as ignorant and to their religion as super- 
stitution, a description that is not likely to win friends among black 
churchpeople. My comment on this is that I am sure that white Christians, 
Democrats and Republicans have said and done worse things to us, and I do 
not hear black Christians saying that we should cease being Christians or 
reject Republicans and Democrats because some whites in these groups call 
us bad names. 

4. When marxists have been forced to face the question of race, 
they have always made it secondary to the economic question and the class 
struggle. While this may be scientifically correct, the way in which 
marxists put forward their perspective on race and class is usually offen- 
sive to the victims of racism. ^^ The black church is a nationalist, race- 
oriented institution whose identity is inseparably connected with the 
struggle for freedom in this life as well as the eternal freedom believed 
to be coming in God's eschatological future. How then can the black church 
embrace a philosophy which by definition makes the elimination of racism 



J 



7. BRIDWELL LIBRARY 

SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY 
'>AaAS, TEXAS 75275 



secondary? This is a critical question and its implications point to the 
heart of the conflict between the black church and marxism. The question 
is whether the black church in particular and the black community generally 
has anything specific and unique to contribute to the struggle for libera- 
tion in this society. Marxists seem to deny that we have anything to con- 
tribute, and that is why they seldom turn to our tradition for insight 
and guidance. Like other whites, they seem to think that they have the 
whole, pure truth. 



A MARXIST VIEW OF THE BLACK CHURCH 

1. According to marxists, the black church preaches salvation as a 
reward to be received in heaven and not as justice on earth. In such a 
context, black religion serves a similar function in the black community 
that religion serves in the white community. It is a sedative, an opiate 
that masks the pain of injustice on earth by directing people's attention 
toward the joy of heaven. Such a perspective makes people exclusively 
dependent on God to change the world and encourages them to exclude social 
analysis and the need for human beings to act on behalf of their own freedom. 
As Karl Marx said: "The more man puts into God, the less he retains in 
himself. "^^ It was in this context that Marx also described religion as 
"'^^^ opium of the people. "31 

As with the matter of atheistic ideology, the religion-sedative 
equation is part of the marxist world view, which may be ignored while taking 
up marxism as a tool of social analysis. To the marxist claim that black 
religion is an opiate, we reply merely that sometimes it is and sometimes 
it is not. 

Certainly the black church is not a consistent model of liberation. 
As long as we have the Reverend Ikes, we know that all is not well with what 
is known as black religion. However, the black church did define the gospel 
as liberation and institutionalized its definition by creating separate, 
independent denominations in the early 19th century. We must not minimize 
the historical and theological importance of Richard Allen, Henry H. 
Garnett, David Walker, Henry M. Turner and Martin Luther King, Jr., all 
of whom, as well as many others, related the gospel to the black freedom 
struggle. When we speak of the black liberation struggle, we are talking 
about a movement that was created in and supported by the black church. ^2 
We have always known that religion is political and the presence of white 
preachers as slaveholders and at the Klan rallies reinforced that fact 
within our theological consciousness. Accordingly, many blacks have found 
in religion not an opiate but tonic that gives courage and strength in the 
struggle of freedom. 

2. Marxists often claim that when the black church does manage to 
come down to earth with its message of freedom, it focuses exclusively on 
racism as if that is the only problem with American society. It does not 
offer a critique of capitalism or seek to construct a completely new 
society. Such a limited vision, the marxists claim, seems to suggest that 
the black church is a capitalist institution and its members are upset with 
American society only because they want a larger piece of the capitalistic 
pie. For the marxist, the black church is reformist and not revolutionary- 



Black churchpeople need to take this critique seriously. We can 
say that in the history of our struggle, the oppression of black people was 
so extreme in every segment of our community that there was no opportunity 
for a comprehensive scientific analysis of American society, including a 
critique of capitalism and a consideration of socialism. Blacks were not 
a part of a European intellectual class but the descendants of African 
slaves. They simply responded to the most pressing contradiction in their 
historical experience^ namely slavery and racism- They did not define 
their struggle as being against capitalism per se , and they did not recog- 
nize the need for a revolution as defined by marxism. Blacks wanted to end 
racism as defined by slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow laws. Now, however, 
we have a small group of black intellectuals in the church and in other 
areas of black life who can provide the necessary leadership. They can and 
should offer black people a critique of capitalism and an alternative vision 
of social existence. 



WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? 

1 would like to offer the following suggestions in order that the 
dialogue between the black church and marxism might be deepened. Both 
marxists and black churchpeople must be open to hear what each is saying 
regarding their respective projects for justice. Without an openness from 
both sides, there is no way that a meaningful dialogue can occur. 

The openness about which I speak must include on the part of marxists 
a willingness to take seriously the uniqueness of black oppression in the 
world generally and the United States in particular. The uniqueness of 
black oppression is not to be understood theologically as if blacks are 
elected by God but only scientifically. It is a fact that most people 
who suffer in the world are people of color and not European. And it is 
a fact that the people responsible for that oppression are white Europeans. 
Marxists have to be open to hear the meaning of that fact by asking whether 
fascism is inherent in the very nature and structure of western civilization. 
But marxists and other socialists do not like to focus on their racism, and 
they try to make us blacks believe that racism will be automatically 
eliminated when capitalism is destroyed. In every European socialist 
society I have seen, including Cuba, the elimination of capitalism has not 
eliminated racism. 

Marxists must further consider whether the black church has some- 
thing distinctive to contribute to the struggle to create a new socialist 
society. Unless white socialists are willing to acknowledge our unique 
contribution to the struggle, then we have nothing to talk about. I will 
not participate in a dialogue with any group which assumes that their philo- 
sophy of social change is the only true one. 

Another aspect of the openness about which I speak is the willing- 
ness of black churchpeople to think about the total reconstruction of 
society along the lines of Democratic Socialism. We must be willing to 
recognize that a social arrangement based on the maximization of profit 
with little regard to the welfare of the people cannot be supported. Even 
"if modern marxism gives the wrong answers, at least it asks the right 



9. 



33 

question.'' Marxism is at least right in its critique of capitalism and 

in its affirmation of the class struggle • I do not believe that it is 
morally right for multi-national corporations to have a monopoly on the 
ownership of the means of production of goods needed for human survival. 
The earth is the Lord's and its resources are intended for all. No one 
has a right to control by private ownership the necessities of human life. 
If black churches do not take a stand against capitalism and for democratic 
socialism, for Karl Marx and against Adam Smith, for the poor in all 
colors and against the rich of all colors, for the workers and against the 
corporations, how can we expect socialists, marxists and other freedom 
fighters to believe us when we sing: 

Oh Freedom! Oh Freedom! 

Oh Freedom, I love thee! 

And before I'll be a slave 

I'll be buried in my grave. 

And go home to my Lord and be free. 

There cannot and should not be any serious dialogue between black churches 
and socialists, if the former are "unwilling to consider socialism as an 
alternative social arrangement. 

Regardless of what happens in the dialogue between black churches 
and socialists, it is clear that we blacks must begin to think of a radical 
and total reconstruction of this society from its material, economic base. 
This reconstruction must include political freedom, racial and sexual 
equality, in short, the opportunity for all to become what we are meant 
to be. We must ask whether it is possible to end racism in a capitalistic 
society, whether a society based on the maximization of profit for a few 
corporate rich while the majority are dependent on wage-labor for survival 
can ever create freedom for black people? While a few "middle class" 
blacks may benefit from the creation of a new intellectual, and managerial 
class by corporations, we must ask about the masses of blacks: that 30% 
underclass, permanently unemployed, that 40 to 60% unemployed black youth, 
and a host of other blacks who have little control over their survival? 
How do we propose to eliminate this extreme form of oppression? Can we 
deal effectively with our situation as oppressed blacks with the tactics 
used by our grandparents? 

It is time for us to consider a radically new social arrangement. 
The question is whether Democratic Socialism offers us such an alternative. 
Will it protect the freedoms we now enjoy and eliminate the evils that now 
exist? When the words socialism and communism are mentioned, most people 
think of Soviet Russia, Cuba, China, Eastern Europe and other such places — 
all of which would be decisively rejected by Democratic Socialists as 
examples of "state capitalism." The problem with Democratic Socialism is 
that there are no historical models to which we can point in order to make 
our claims and goals concrete. White American capitalists often ask radical 
social critics, "Why don't you go somewhere else and live?" Or if they 
are more polite, they ask: "Where does such a socialist society exist, if 
the ones that adopt the name are not in fact socialist?" 



10. 



These are hard questions, even if they do come from people who 
represent the consciousness of the ruling class. But I contend that the 
absence of an historical model should not deter us from our attempt to 
create one. For hope in black religion is based on a vision not present 
in, but created out of, historical struggle. If we limit our hope to what 
is, then we destroy it. Hope is the expectation of that which is not. It 
is a belief that the impossible is possible, the "not yet" is coming in 
history. Without hope, the people perish. Hope is what enabled Frederick 
Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks ^ and Martin Luther King to actualize 
historical projects of freedom which others said were impossible. If we 
blacks today limit our hope to what is, that is, to the Democratic and 
Republican parties, then our vision is severely limited. If we define 
our struggle for freedom only within the alternatives posed by capitalism, 
then we have allowed our future humanity to be determined by what people 
have created and not by God. To believe in God is to know that our hope 
is grounded in Jesus Christ, the crucified Lord whose resurrected presence 
creates a new hope for a better world. why not think that the "not yet" 
is possible? Why not think of a completely new society and begin to devise 
ways to realize it on earth? For if our heavenly visions have no earthly 
realizations, then they can only serve as a sedative that eases the pain 
of an unbearable present. Is that the extent of black religion's essence? 
Why are there no genuinely radical and independent voices coming from our 
leaders today? Why do they pose alternatives that exist only within 
capitalism, a system which offers no hope for the masses of blacks? 
Personally I like Andy Young, NAACP, Urban League, SCLC, Jessie Jackson 
and our black elected officials, and I do not wish to minimize the hard 
work and devotion they have given on our behalf. The same is true for our 
ministers and theologians of the gospel. But what I find missing in what 
they propose are genuinely new visions of the social order. Perhaps what 
we need today is to return to that "good old-time religion" of our grand- 
parents and combine with it a marxist critique of society. Together black 
religion and marxist philosophy may show us the way to build a completely 
new society. With that combination, we may be able to realize in the 
society the freedom of which we sing and pray for in the black church. 



11, 



Notes 



!• Cited in Philip S. Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans : From the 
Age of Jackson to World War II (Westport^ Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 
197777 p. 205. 

2. Ibid*, p. 57. 

3. Ibid., p, 59* 

h^ For an excellent analysis of Woodbejr's perspective on socialism as well as 
other black socialist preachers, see Ibid,, Chapter 7. See also 
Gomel West's, "Black Theology and Marxist Thou^t" in G* Wilmore and 
J, Cone's, Black Theology : A DQcx:imentary History , 1966-1979 
(Maryknoll, H,Y.: Orbis Books, 1979)^ PP^ 564f. See also two additional 
essays by West, "Socialism and the Black Church," New York Circus ; 
A Center for Social Justice and International Awareness ^ October- 
November 1979> Vol. 3, No. 5, pp. 5-8; and "Black Theology and 
Socialist Thought," The Witness, Vol. 63, No. k, April I980, pp. I6-I9. 

5. (New York: Bantam Book, 1973). See also Harrington's, Toward A Democratic 

Left: A Radical Program for A New Majority (New York: MacmiHan, 196a); The 
The Twilight of Capitalism (New York: Touchstone Book, I976). 

6. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, I967). 

7. Weinstein, Kte Decline of Socialism in America, I912-I925 (New^York: 

Vintage Books, I969). See also his The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal 
State 1900-1918 (Boston: Beacon Press, I955)t 

8. Weinstein, Ambiguous Legacy : The Left in American Politics (New York: 

New Viewpoints, I97jn 

9. The invisibility of the black radicals in the writings of writers on the 

left is also found in Peter Clecak's, Radical Paradoxes : Dili=^mmftfl of 
the American Left ; 19^5-1970 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 197^) J 
T.B. Bottomore, Critics of Society : Radical Thought in North America 
(New York: Vintage Books, I969). In the I968 revision of this book 
there is added a "Postscript" and it covers Bottomore *s interpretation 
of the civil rights and Black Power movements. 

Christopher Lasch, ^te New Radicalism in America : 1889-1963 (New York: 
Vintage Books, I965) is also conspicxaous for its absence of any references 
to black radicalism. However, in his The Agony of The American Left 
(New York: Vintage Books, I969), there is a penetrating analysis of 
"Black Power: Cultural Nationalism as Politics." But even here, he is 
silent on earlier black radicals in the black church and other segments 
of black life. 

10. See also Robert L. Allen (with the collaboration of Pamela P. Allen), 



12. 



lii 



I* 



Reluctant Reformers ; Racism and Social Reform Movements in the United 
StitiTTNew York: Doublidi^, 1975jr^e most perceptive critic of the 
vhlte l eft is Harold Cruse, Kie Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New 
York: Morrow, I967); see also his Rebellion or Revolution (New York: 
Morrow, I968). 

11. Cited In Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States, p. 36. 

12. Cited in Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans , p. 219. 

13. Cited in Ibid., p. 85. Foner's treatment of J>lack socialist preachers in 

chapterTTf this volume is excellent. Other articles by black socialist 
preachers include Bishop James T. Holly's "Socialism From the Biblical 
Point of View," The AM| Church Review , Vol. 10, 189!^; George F. Miller, 
"Enslavement of ^he Worker," The Messenger , Vol. II, No. 7, July 19^-9; 
"Socialism and Its Ethical Basis." The Messenger , Vol. II, No. 7, July 
1919. I am especially appreciative to my colleague, Professor James 
Washington, for sharing copies of the Holly and Miller articles with me. 

Ik. Black Religion ; The Negro ^ Christianity in th^ United States (Boston: 
Beacon Press, l^&iY* 

15. ^e History of the Negro Church (Washington, D.C.: The Associated 

Publishers, 1972). 

16. The Negro Church iji America (New York: Schocken, I962). 

17. Black Religion and Black Radicalism (New York; Doubleday, 1973). 

18. For an account of the events and responses to ^he Black Manifesto , see 

G. Wilmore and J. Cone's, Black Theol ogy: A Documentary History, l^bb-l^T? 
The Black Manifesto is included in that volume also. 

19. (New York: Seabury Press, I969). 

20. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970 ). 

21. (New York: Seabury Press, 1975). 

22 For a partial account of the ijmpact of Third World Theologians upon my ^ 
theol^ical perspective, see my "Black Theology and Third World Theologie 
in Wilmore and Cone, Black Theology ; A Documentary History, pp. 445-t)00. 

23. This essay is included in Wilmore and Cone, Black Theology: A Documentary 
History , pp. 350-359. 

2k, See Christianity and Crisis, Jan\iary 2U, 1977. 

25 See 6 William Domhoff , The Powers That Be: Processes of Ruling Class Domina 
^' tion L^^iS (New'Y5?k:-Vi5Eig^^, ^7|}rge71so^ ^JMUT" 
America T^jlewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-HaU, 19o7;. 



13. 



26, Cited in Ralph L. Roy, Communism and the Churches (New York: Harcourt, 

Brace and Co., I960), p. 4b. 

27, Adam C. Powell, Jr., Marching Blacks (New York: The Dial Press, 1973), 

p, 67. Originally published in 19^5, 

28, Por a comprehensive accotmt of .socialist's attitude toward blacks, see 

Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans , 

29, hSy personal encounter with white marxists who emphasized that racism is 

secondary and class is primary occurred in dialogues with Latin American 
liberation theologians and so-called white liberation theologians in 
North America. My response to that emphasis was to say: Even if that 
were true, no lAite person has the right to say it to a black person. 
People who do not suffer from a particular ■Por/>\ of societal oppression 
have no right to say to people irtio do that their suffering is secondary 
and that the real strviggle is located in another area. Furthermore 
•vhea 1 think that it is the descendants of slave masters, the enslavers 
of my grandparents, who are saying such things, I get a little upset 
and wonder what kind of enslaving game is being planned for black 
people in the name of socialism, 

30, Eie Marx-Engels Reader , edited by Robert C, Tucker (New York: W.W. Norton, 

Second Edition, 197^), p. 72. 

31, Ibid ,, p, 5^+. 

32, The best account of the black church's involvement in the black church's 

involvement in the black stjruggle for freedom, see Gayraud S, Wilmore's, 
Black Religion and Black Radicalism , 

33, A comment by Denys Munby cited in J, Philip Wogaman, Eie Great Economic 

Debate ; An Ethical Analysis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 
p. 55. 



By Michael Harrington 

James Coneys paper on The Black Church and Marxism is sixbtitled, 
What Do They Have to Say to Each Other? That is precisely the question 
to ask, and we are in Coneys debt for having done so in clear and forth- 
right fashion. As a white Marxist — if, but only if, you grant me my own 
definition of Marxism as a democratic, undogmatic theory and praxis of 
freedom under modern conditions — I want to respond to his invitation to 
dialogue. I make no pretense at presenting a paper as thoughtful and 
far-reaching as Cone's; I simply want to take up three points which were 
suggested to me by his essay. 

First, on the failure of Marxists in America to recognize black 
history and black socialist history in particular. 

There is no question that the Debsian Socialist Party, in its 
period of greatest influence (1901-1920), often tended to reduce the 
question of rasci^m to an epi -phenomenon of the class struggle and to 
see black workers as workers but not as blacks. Indeed, as Herbert Hill 
pointed out some time ago, there was a workingclass, and even socialist, 
racism which first arose on the West Coast and was directed against Asian 
Americans. There were anti-Asian labor parties; the Socialist Party 
itself dodged many of the complexities of the immigration issue which 
was the focal point of that racism; and there were even socialists, 
like the novelist, Jack London, who sometimes talked in terms not too 
far distant from white supremacy. Even after A. Philip Randolph entered 
the socialist movement after World War I, some of those illusions per- 
sisted. One reason was that it was possible to think that Randolph was 
adopting the old notion that class was all and race fairly unimportant. 

In fact, it was precisely as a black that Randolph advocated a 
united front of the black and white workingclass. For him, that was part 
of a strategy against racism rather than an evasion of the issue. That 
became quite clear during the March on Washington movement (MOW) right 
before World War II. The premise of that magnificent exercise in black 
political power was that it was intolerable for a nation committed to 
fighting fascist racism to perpetuate its own racism at home. Cu" rf 
that struggle came Roosevelt's Presidential fair employment pr3.r-i:es 
ruling for the war industries — and the greatest relative gair.s ~ ej ~^±e 
by blacks in the economy, before or since. And Randolph fur-r.er ~':.E,-^er.ed 
that point when he publicly ad^^ocated black civil disobedience if vr.i-e 
America tried to draft blacks into a Jim Crow army after World '.'."ar II. 

My point is that the issue is not class analysis (and action) or 
race analysis (and action) , but the class analysis of racism and the racial 
analysis of the American class structure (which, as I pointed out in Hie 
Other America, provides a de facto institutionalization of segrega-icr. 



IJL. 



even after de jure segregation has been abolished). Randolph understood 
that complexity. Most socialists did not, and Cone is right to emphasize 
how that fact was to make dialogue difficult, if not impossible. 

There is another aspect of this problem, one which is also associ- 
ated with the life and work of A. Philip Randolph. The American 
Communists were the first radicals in this country to make anti-racism 
a major priority in their work. Ironically, that very sound conclusion 
was, like many other conclusions, good and bad, imposed upon the Communists 
by their Soviet comrades in Moscow (Theodore Draper's history of American 
Communism documents these developments) . Even so, the Communists did 
systematically organize on this question, and -a fair number of black 
activists of the Thirties first became involved in the struggle in, or 
in cooperation with, the Communists. 

But if the American Communists could be ordered to be right on the 
black issue, they could also be ordered to be wrong. Sudden shifts in the 
Party line-'-from "Third Period" militancy in the early Thirties to support 
for Roosevelt after 1935"'-were reflected in policies carried out on the 
streets of Harlem and Chicago's South Side. Richard Wright has left us a 
haunting account of this experience, ending with his physical exclusion 
from a May Day parade after his expulsion from the Party. And Harold 
Cruse 's account shows how the bitterness of blacks who decided they had 
been used sometimes reacted, not simply against Communists, but against 
Jewish Communists. Thus, if the Debsian Socialists often ignored the issue 
of race, the American Communists recognized it, which is very much to their 
credit, but also manipulated it in the course of following a line determined 
for them in the Soviet Union. 

I obviously do not make these points in opposition to James Cone 
but rather to reinforce his point and insist upon the failure of all wings 
and tendencies speaking in the name of Marxism in this country. 

Secondly, Cone raises the question of whether "...racism is inherent 
in the very nature and structure of western civilization." I think one 
has to be very careful on this count. 

From a Marxist point of view, there are no "inherent" social atti- 
tudes, not racism, not capitalism, not socialism. All points of view arise 
in the course of history and within the matrix of an economic social forma- 
tion. Given that meaning of "inherent" — as somehow embedded in the white, 
or western, psyche without reference to the white, western history — I would 
reject its use. But if James Cone is thinking of something much more 
complex—and the rest of his essay certainly suggests that he is-^then a 
very important point is being made. 

In the simplest reading of Marx, an economic "base" "determines" a 
cultural, political "superstructure." It is precisely such a vulgarization 
of Marx which allows one to treat of racism as a mere "superstructural" 
factor, bound to vanish with the transformation of the "base." But in 
Marx's own theory and practice, reality is seen in a much more sophisticated 
fashion- Greek art survives as a model of beauty in the century of the 



111. 



industrial revolution; British aristocrats are the political -^-cy °f 
the triumph of the bourgeois economy; cultures lead and lag, are avant 
garde and^etrograde. In this framework, the -^-°f-^^,^J^J^,i" "^^ 
organization of the world which began sometime around the Sixteenth 
century-when the West was culturally backward compared to both the 
Chinese and the Arabs-has psychological as well as economic consequences. 

The development of a world capitalist economy utterly dominated by, 
and structured in the interest of, Western Capitalism made the white 
European civilization (which includes the "^^ted States) lord of the earth, 
^d ?ust as the poor whites in the American South were ^^^^/^f ^J^^^^" 
in the ruling class to compensate for a poverty almost as bad as that of 
the blacks, so entire cultures were permeated by a sense of racial 
superiority. Workers, and sometimes even radical workers, were infected 
S'^this disease: there were labor imperialists in «--^--^^^^^"f g^,,, . 
England; there are Communist, workingclass racists m present-day France, 

and so on. 

This racist consciousness is not genetically or culturally 
"inherent;" but it is a historic product which has taken on a life ot 
its own. Therefore, the triumph of socialist movements -^--P^ °- 
the united States would not necessarily put an end to racism within 
thSse societies or between them and the Third World. ^-^7^^ °%,3^_. 
would create the optimum framework for the struggle against that racism 
but a specifically anti-racist struggle would still be required. That is, 
I think! a profoundly Marxist point, and it is what I take James Cone to 
be saying. 

Thirdly, cone comments that "in every European socialist society I 
have sein including Cuba, the elimination of capitalism has not eliminated 
racism "This raises one of the most hotly debated questions in the modern 
SsS^ of^rxism: the nature of Cor^nunist (capital C ^o-unist societies) . , 
Those countries~the Soviet Union, Cuba, Eastern Europe-are certainly i 

nor^apitalist. The bourgeoisie has been eliminated; private property I 

in the means of ^^o.uct.on^s^e^^^^^ J o th B^t^^-^^^^ ^ 

post-capitalism equate with socialism? I thinx nor. une 
facts of late Twentieth century life is that there is not one, but two, 
ftSrnatives to capitalism. Both are collectivist, one is democratic, 
the other is authoritarian or totalitarian. 

For a Marxist, I would argue, socialism is not collectivism but 
collectivism of, by and for the working people. In a society where the 
rtairo:;ns the ;eans of production, the decisive question is who °-s 
the state? There is only one way for the people to own the state whicn 
otJs the means of production: through the fullest -d freest right to 
dictate policies democratically to that state, including the right to 
Averse decisions and fire personnel. In the absence of democracy in a 
statified economy, the state bureaucracy takes on class P^-;;f ^^^^^^^^^^ 
carries out the function of allocating the surplus product of the society. 

Bureaucratic collectivism— which is my name for post-capitalist, 
non-socialist societies— is a form of class society. In the Soviet 



iv. ' 1^ tJ ^ .i 7 



^ -^ ^ ^ ^ / 



Union, for instance, the ruling class has always been, and still is, 
disproportionately Russian in ethnic make-up. There is discrimination 
against the non-Russian, and particularly Third World, nationalities. 
Therefore, I would amend Cone's statement, broaden it. It is not only 
wrong to assume that the elimination of capitalism ends racism; it is 
also wrong to think that the elimination of capitalism automatically 
gives rise to socialism. 

I have, it is clear, only raised some points with regard to this 
very important contribution to the dialogue between the Marxists and 
the black church. It is clear that James Cone's essay is the beginning 
of a beginning, and I am hopeful that the Institute for Democratic 
Socialism will be a significant actor in this important process. 



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